Corporate Accelerators – how to leverage the most out of your startup collaboration programs in 8 steps
Why innovate through collaboration?
Collaboration between technology start-ups and large corporates is key to foster innovation in Europe1. When done correctly, it can benefit both sides greatly:
Startups enjoy insights from experts, a touchpoint to a wide customer base and access to a variety of resources, as well as specialized equipment (such as testing facilities). Corporates, on the other hand, can gain financial benefits, influence and insights by leveraging2:
- disruptive ideas,
- organizational agility,
- the willingness to take risk,
- and aspirations to rapid growth,
However, only 20%-40% of startup collaborations are successful3. In the following article we will share what we at acccoi have learned about collaborations and success in our years of experience.
Why corporate accelerator?
Corporate accelerators are company-supported programs of limited duration that aim to tackle strategic needs through the creation of common solutions. The programs are built to support cohorts of startups via mentoring, education with the available company-specific resources.
When comparing to other open innovation methodologies – one off’s, incubators and acquisitions – the implementation of a corporate accelerator is a strategy that is strongest in outcome with minimal risks associated to it.4. This is because corporate accelerators offer corporates the possibility of building a strong partnership foundation before entering into risky equity investments:
- building an innovation network
- enjoying organizational transformation through increased dynamic capabilities,
- and experiencing a steep learning curve about working and partnering with startups.
How to make your corporate accelerator successful?
The very first step is to have clear goals in mind and communicate them well – a shared vision is a proven key to success. Therefore, make sure to set the right, purposeful KPI’s and follow them along the entire program using suitable metrics and tools.
Following a structured method allows you to focus on what is important in the moment – creating valuable projects and generating mutual value. The acccoi methodology is based on global best-case practices, offering a predefined structure for meaningful work.
Tomorrows’ value creation will take place in ecosystems. Involving ecosystem partners such as clients, partners and even competitors can create shared value proposition that will be a foundation of future initiatives.
It is crucial to define the right business innovation areas, or “innovation search fields”. Ideally, those search fields need to be based on the corporate strategic needs, furthermore remaining strongly rooted to the business core.
Involvement of all stakeholders in the right amount is an important factor to ensure program support and the balance of constraints. The involvement of different business units can be fruitful by actively involving relevant experts in the development of solutions.
As an outside-in startup project, the dedicated Proof-of-Concept fund is an important investment, which allows to mature a customer-vendor relationship. Hence, it is a vital component for startups to be integrated as innovation engines into the corporate.
Healthy collaborations should not be ended too fast. This is why considering Post Acceleration options to continue the partnerships require the necessary attention. Qualitative cooperation with startups should have the option to take the partnership to the next level, e.g. in form of vendor agreement, or, depending on the maturity of the collaboration – even investment.
We recommend considering pre-dominantly later stage startups for collaborations, as at that stage, the nascent firm has already traction with its’ solution, generates no more losses and hence has more stability. A later-stage is connected to lower risk and therefore higher chance of successful long-term collaboration.
Where to start?
Decide whether a corporate accelerator is the right format for you, by asking yourself following questions:
- What are your long-term strategic goals?
- What is the current framework of activities supporting your innovation strategy? How are your innovation activities supporting the overall strategy?
- Can you commit to a corporate accelerator for at least 18 weeks? Can you designate the needed resources – a PMO team, POC fund and commitment from business units?
After that, it is time to set up the framework of your program, by deciding the purpose, scope and targets of your collaboration program. We have defined three different programs to suit different needs. As soon as the decision is set upon those questions, you can start with the detailed planning of your corporate accelerator program.
- Altendorf, M., Bertolo, S., Brack, A., Fricke, J.R., et al. (2018) Collaboration between Start-ups and Corporates: A Practical Guide for Mutual Understanding.
- Weiblen, T. & Chesbrough, H.W. (2015) Engaging with Startups to Enhance Corporate Innovation. California Management Review. 57 (2)
- Steiber, A. & Alänge, S. (2020) Corporate-startup collaboration: effects on large firms’ business transformation. European Journal of Innovation Management. [Online] Available from: doi:10.1108/EJIM-10-2019-0312.
- Onetti, A. (2019) Turning open innovation into practice: trends in European corporates. Journal of Business Strategy. [Online] Available from: doi:10.1108/JBS-07-2019-0138.